Friday, March 28, 2008

Balancing Act: New Balance Says "Don't Be A Hater"

Can convincing your consumer to become more of a lover and less of a hater strengthen your brand identity?
Watching the NCAA tournament over the past month, many of you may have noticed the latest New Balance ads (by BBDO New York). One commercial starts out showing a man in bed who later is seen running in the dark. "Running kicks you out of a warm cozy bed and into a cold hard world...Every day is a question of your commitment." In another, called “You Broke up with Running,” there’s a guy sitting in a park watching people run by him. "You broke up with running last week. And now you see running everywhere. Looking really, really good." He’s envious of the runners who made the choice to run while he sits eating fast food on a park bench. Strike a chord with any of you?

New Balance, tired of being outrun and out marketed by Nike, plans to triple its ad spending in an attempt to double sales by 2012 (to reach $3B globally). Sure it’s a lofty goal, especially when you think of how Nike has been a dominant player in the athletic-shoe category and has only increased it market share over the years. So how is New Balance going to "do it" (no pun on Nike's 'Just Do It' tagline intended)? reported that the company has come out with a new campaign - the Love-Hate campaign - to chase casual runners and hit home with 18- to 29-year-olds (their current loyal customer base tends to be serious runners over the age of 30).

So what has the New Balance brand looked like over the years? Their website says they have “been a brand concerned with meeting the needs of the everyday athlete…a superior product will sell itself better than any superstar athlete ever could.” In 2005, The Boston Globe reported that “instead of hiring sports stars to pitch shoes, Boston's New Balance has a philosophy of ''Endorsed by no one." Instead of focusing on fashion and teenagers, as many rivals do, New Balance...emphasizes function, something his baby-boomer customers appreciate.” In 2004, Ageless Marketing by Marketeer David Wolfe argued that “New Balance’s success in projecting values that resonate across generational divides led it to having faster growth rate in market share among consumers under age 40 than either Nike or Reebok.” The blog even highlighted marketing techniques used by Nike and New Balance and claimed New Balance was attractive to the older consumer set because they had more "feminine" values. Source: Ageless Marketing, 2004
So what is it about the Love-Hate campaign that should hit home with a broad consumer base? Well, what is one of the most important things behind an effective ad campaign - finding something that taps into a key insight about the consumer. If you visit the New Balance website, the first message that pops up says “For every runner there’s a constant struggle between pain and pleasure. Between good days and bad. Between LOVE and HATE....Feel the LOVE. Feel the HATE.” I think New Balance has figured out something that hits home with both serious and casual runners.

The ads have met some criticism, however. For example, on WonderBranding: Marketing to Women, Michele Miller states “Corporate New Balance has made a conscious decision to move completely away from the older demographic and are going for, in their words, ‘young runners’…It just breaks my heart that this is the direction they are going in.” Marketeer David Wolfe responds “They have committed a classic marketing error of stupendous proportion: departing from the brand’s traditional essence. Rarely do brands succeed in making so sharp a break with their past...Not since the ill-fated “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile” campaign have I seen such a display of ignorance of the psychodynamics of brand management. Someone needs to get to Jim and Ann Davis (NB’s majority owners) before it is too late.”

So why don’t I agree with Michele and David? I don’t see these ads as being young (i.e. only appealing to a high school/college-aged demographic). I see them pinpointing a key insight in to how people feel about running. Running is challenging. And it does make you feel guilty about having an on-off relationship with it. It’s a struggle any person who has ever run - even just once - can relate to. And it's a universal feeling - i.e. not gender or age specific. The ads attempt to make you believe that New Balance shoes will help you find a way to love your support group. None of the other shoes will give you that balance between LOVE and hate.

Since I was able to find criticizm of the campaign, I decided to do some searching to see what other opinions were out there. I found a couple of runner’s forums and noted very positive comments about the campaign. On a triathalon forum, one user said “There's something about the guy sitting with a generic bag of fast-food in this one that really appealed to me. Could be that I'm that guy right now.” On one runner said “love the ads...gave me the push I needed to get out the door on Friday night,” while another said “Totally! Great ads - bring some light to the sport of running... finally.” On SoundBite Back, Anthony Juliano (who happens to be a runner) talks about how he fell out of love with New Balance. “Part of the problem is the New Balance brand itself. It's always been kind of vanilla, lacking the intangible allure of other brands. It's not that New Balance had a bad image--it just didn't seem to stand for anything at all. And that made customers like me pretty vulnerable to good advice from people they trust…So, what's a brand to do when it runs into a relevance problem? Well, New Balance is investing in a new advertising campaign. And I have to admit, I think what they're doing is great. And smart.” Dead on.

Sure the ads could be improved by focusing more on why the New Balance shoe will help switch the balance to give you more love and less hate for running (ex/ shoe design, comfort, maybe even an online users community for you to get support/find running partners). But it’s only the beginning of the campaign, and New Balance has given themselves some great building blocks.

So marketing critics, what do the rest of you think?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Scotts Gets Co-Creative with Customers

It's approaching mid-March and STILL winter here in Michigan (yes, I'm getting a little stir crazy from all the cold weather). In fact, I shoveled another 5 inches of snow from my driveway just last week. But that doesn't prevent me from thinking about spring and all the things that come with it - flowers, green grass, warm weather, gardening. I've actually started browsing mail order catalogs trying to figure out what plants to add to my garden this year. So the Scotts Company had perfect timing when they sent me an e-mail announcing their new "Miracle Grow" website.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the Scotts Company's brand portfolio, it consists of Scotts, Ortho, Round-up, Miracle-Gro, and most recently, Smith & Hawken. (In October 2004, the Scotts Company acquired Smith & Hawken for $68.5 million and announced plans to sell Smith & Hawken items at major retailers like Home Depot. Many of you may be Target shoppers and have noticed the dedicated Smith & Hawken aisle...with higher priced gardening/home decor items.)

The Website
On Scotts' new site, the login screen reads: "It's all about you. Jump in and customize your experience.

  • Save your supply lists: Keep track of everything you need from the store.
  • Create personal blogs: Share stories of your lawn and garden prowess.
  • Participate in forums: Post questions and get answers quickly.
  • Offer ratings and write reviews: Give your opinion on products and projects.
  • Get customized recommendations: Get info based on your specific interests.
  • Make a personal page: Keep everything in one convenient place.
  • Grab what you need: Download personalized info to your desktop."

Sounds like they thought of just about everything a web-savvy gardener would want! Exploring the website I discovered several useful areas. For example, you can customize your own lawn care program. Through inputting some information, the website will give you recommendations on fertilizers, watering, etc. for different zones and grass types. I think a lot of this information was available on the old website, but not as easy to find and with less detail. There's also a link called "My Supply List " where you can add the Scotts products you want to purchase to a list you can print out and take to the store with you. In looking into the other areas of the site, there were spaces to:

  • Grow- An area where you can find information about lawns, various types of gardening (flower, vegetable & herb, indoor and container), birds and wildlife, trees, hedges, hardscapes and organics.
  • Learn - An area with links to projects including a "learning library," annual lawn care program, and lawn & garden calendars. This area helps take the guesswork out of yard work, providing you with things like seasonal feeding, watering and maintenance plans (you click on your region of the country to get the perfect plan for you) and help in identifying your grass type.
  • Solve - A section on the site for you to find solutions to problems. For example, it can help you identify what may be causing those round patches of brown grass in your lawn.
  • Connect - The key interactive part of the website where you can join the Scotts Lawn community, post and browse photos in lawn, garden, and pet photo galleries, start your own gardening blog (or read someone else's), post comments or ask questions in online forums, receive advice from Scotts' experts, and sign-up for email newsletters/hot issues alerts (ex. if there's an unusual insect infestation in your area).

Besides areas to "grow" and learn you you can create a profile that will be your identity when participating in the Scotts Lawn community. So what might your profile page look like? Below is what I created in a couple of minutes. You can upload a photo, and tell everyone about your dream job, what you do to relax, where you'd love to visit, your favorite type of music, what neighbors say about your lawn, and your zodiac sign (what some of this has to do with yard work and gardening I have no idea. I'd personally prefer to list areas of gardening I like, yard specialties (for example, maybe you have a knack with roses...this would be good for others to know in case they are looking for some advice). And things you need help with. For example, some of my plants are a magnet for spidermites.)

My Thoughts
First of all, I want to give Scotts props for getting co-creative with its customers. What do I mean by co-creation? Co-creation essentially means a company wants its customers to create their own unique experiences with their product/brand. To accomplish this, the company will provide some sort of platform for users (in this case a website allowing for some personalization). The results of this are easier access to consumers and their opinions, which generally helps assist the company in making better products and service experiences for its customers. Instead of being one-way interaction (i.e. Scotts providing all of the information to it's customers), it allows for multiple-way interaction - customers can interact with each other and with Scotts, customizing the experience to be unique for them. Personalization...gotta love it.

I have a feeling Scotts will get some great feedback from its customers as a result of this site's launch. As more people use the site, they'll also discover what improvements/additions customers would like to see be made. Something I'd like to see Scotts improve on, for example, is in the lawn care program section. I'd like this section to let me put in the actual date that I applied my last lawn treatment and then send me an e-mail when I need to apply again (right now it will notify you of generic timing when to apply, but doesn't record when you actually applied the treatment to your lawn.). I'd also like to see some minor mods to the profile area - although putting in my zodiac sign and favorite type of music might be fun, it doesn't really help other community members know where my lawn & garden expertise may lie -or- in what areas I could use some help. These are just minor things and overall, I think this site is a great start to getting more in touch with customers. Being a lawn & garden enthusiast, I know I personally will be using the Scotts site as a resource for my growing tips, helping make my thumb a little more green...even in the months that Mother Nature isn't cooperating with me :)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Attention Foodies: Get Yourself a Tasty Tastebook!

As some of you may have gathered from my previous blog entries, I really enjoy cooking. As a result, you'll find me quite regularly flipping through Bon Appetit and visiting the websites of epicurious and the Food Network to find recipes to try out over the weekend. Pulling together a weekend menu earlier this week, I happened to visit epicurious and noticed something new. On the right hand side of the screen, there was a link saying "Turn your Epi recipe box into a personal cookbook." So I clicked on it and was instantly interested.

What I discovered was For those of us who love to cook but have lots of random recipes that we wished were in a neatly organized, nicely printed book, this site is something we've been looking for. (Just last year I attempted to create a cookbook on Shutterfly...which obviously is much more user friendly for photos than it is for formatted text).

So what is Tastebook? Tastebook is a website that helps you create a personalized, hardcover cookbook. (No more hand written recipe cards for me! ) The book is actually a if you don't use up the 100 recipe quota the site gives you per book, you have an opportunity to add more recipes to it later. And the price isn't too bad seeing that it equates to about $0.35 per recipe (sells for $34.95/book).

Through Tastebook you can add your own recipes (including photos, tips, sources, etc.), search for recipes from Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines, and import your recipe boxes from Pretty neat!
And besides creating your own book, there's the option to purchase one of several pre-prepared books. The nice thing about these is you can also add recipes to them to make them further customized. I'm personally not that big on just selecting a cookbook with recipes I haven't tried since I have plenty of those already. But this would be nice for people looking for some new recipes to try out. There's even a place on the site to add contacts. So once you complete your Tastebook you can share it with friends. You also have the option to send the cookbook as a gift. The cool thing about this is if your cookbook has 80 recipes in it instead of 100, it gives the person receiving the gift 20 free recipe credits. Neat.

I do have a couple complaints so far in using the website. First, I haven't quite figured out how to organize my recipes in each section. For example, I have several cookie recipes in the "Desserts and Treats" section. The only way I've figured out how to clump them in the same area is to rename the recipe titles to call out what it is first. For example instead of "Spice Roll Out Cookies," I would rename the recipe "Cookies: Spice Roll Outs." But this doesn't work in the case of imported recipes since I can't change them (Tastebook does not give you the option to edit imported recipes). The good news is the site is in its Beta version, so that means some additional changes may be on the way.

So what are my recommendations to Tastebook? For future upgrades to the site, I'd advise Tastebook to:
  • Enable "sub-categories" under the main divided sections for those of us who are overly organized so we can lump chicken recipes, cookie recipes, etc. together. Maybe even let the category be customizable.
  • Enable editing of imported recipes. Maybe there's some copy-right restriction on allowing this...I'm not sure. But we know people modify recipes. For example, if you visit the Food Network site and click on a recipe, many users have rated the recipe and included their own tips/modifications/experiences. So if there's a way to let us edit imports, great. Otherwise I'll be hand typing in recipes instead of importing them which is more of a hastle for me.
  • Offer a group compilation page. I.e. provide an area just for friends to upload recipes and create a book together. This would also come in handy for groups creating a recipe book to sell.
  • Allow high resolution photos to be uploaded for a more customized cover. Although there is a nice selection of photos on the site (40 in all), I'd like to be able to make my book a complete "Sarah Creation."
  • Garner a deal with Food Network and other popular food websites so we can import other recipes to the site as well. Or let people on the site vote for favorite cooks and garner deals with those chefs (I'll be voting to add Rachael Ray, Ina Garten, and Giada De Laurentiis to the list...)